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Minister of Environment defiant over legal charge

Now the Ministry of Environment holds the key to the future of industry in Romania - but this responsibility comes with a price. Minister Attila Korodi talks to The Diplomat

March 2008 - From the Print Edition

After less than one year as Minister of Environment and Sustainable Development, Attila Korodi is now at the centre of a court case with international significance.
Since coming into power in April, the new Minister’s goal has evidently been to stop Canadian company Rosia Montana Gold Corporation (RMGC) from starting gold-mining in the Apuseni mountains, western Romania.
The company intends to use cyanide to extract gold in a multi-billion project, but the Democratic Union of Hungarians in Romania (UDMR) minister claims this method is too dangerous for Romania.
“Myself, the Ministry and the Government believe that Romania cannot allow there to be more high-risk areas which have deposits of mining wastes including a high concentration of cyanide,” Korodi tells The Diplomat. “This takes into consideration the fact that not even the current mining sites are properly handled.”
But the Canadian company, which has invested 200 million Euro in its plan, claims it will respect stringent EU mining regulations.
The UDMR, Greater Romania Party and the Social Democratic Party have voiced criticism against the project. There is now a draft law in Parliament to ban cyanide in mining, which is awaiting approval. Meanwhile a group of Romanian MEPs have started a similar campaign in the European Parliament.
But this law is out of step with the majority of international opinion. Globally around 90 per cent of gold is extracted using cyanide. In the EU, 12 of its 15 gold mines use cyanide, including sites in Sweden and Finland.
The Ministry is also postponing the mine development through the bureaucratic route. Last autumn a committee including Korodi and Silviu Stoica, a secretary of state in Ministry of Environment, stopped an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) procedure needed for the authorisation of the project. The reason for this was that the Canadian company did not have planning permission for the site.
Now RMGC is taking to court the Ministry, Korodi and Stoica for what it calls the “illegal suspension” of the procedure.
“The fact that the company decided to sue not just the Ministry but also me, the Minister as a person, and Mr Stoica, is harassment,” says Korodi. “It was us who took the decision, but only because we are the decision makers in this institution, and this was an institutional, not a personal, decision.”

Green business

Renewable energy is also a target for the 31 year-old Minister Korodi, especially hydropower, biomass and wind energy. Wind is favoured because, argues the minister, it gives a quick return on its investment. Dobrogea and Moldavia are most suited for wind energy. But one obstacle in Dobrogea is the difficulty to link up potential farms to the power grid. Around 20 per cent of Romania’s electricity supply comes from hydropower, but the Minister warns that Romania should not have high expectations of private projects in this sector, because of the high cost of investment.
The Ministry is co-financing private investments in renewable energy through the quasi-autonomous Government department, the Environment Fund. The new car tax is financing this fund, with an annual value of 41 million Euro.
Korodi says most requests for finance from the Environment Fund are for biomass projects. Forested areas are most suited for biomass, but this source of electricity is not for large scale consumers, only self-enclosed communities.
Unfortunately most money for renewable energy is from foreign investors, because Romanian companies are only willing to finance small initiatives in this sector.
EU accession has transformed the Ministry of Environment from an often overlooked department into a key decision maker responsible for billions of Euro to spend. Under the EU accession treaty, the Government has to invest 19 billion Euro in water treatment and sewerage by 2018. Around 40 per cent of this money will come from European funds and the rest from the state budget and external loans.
As Romania moves from a heavily industrialised country to a more service-based economy, large polluters are now forced to change their strategy or shut down. The Ministry says most of the guilty parties have decided to close part of their operations.
However Bucharest remains one of the most polluted European capitals, despite the relocation of its factories to the outskirts. Pollution is due to the high density of living, heavy traffic and construction sites. For the city, the Minister of Environment says there “are not many solutions” to cut down pollution.
Responsibility for the urban landscape lies with the local administration. The Ministry of Environment is powerless.
“There is no communication or relationship between us and the Bucharest City Hall or the local council,” says Attila Korodi.

By Ana Maria Nitoi



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